The CAM: Time For A Dedicated Print Gallery?

January 20th, 2013  |  Published in *, January 2013  |  4 Comments

The CAM: Time For A Dedicated Print Gallery?

~ Kevin Ott

The Cincinnati Art Museum is nearing completion of the former Art Academy building which will house the Mary Schiff Library, offices and other spaces, including a beautiful terrace with outstanding views. Most importantly, this will result in an increase of 15,000 square feet or about 20%more exhibition space. This, of course, is great news. But, what will occupy the new space? Maybe more Contemporary Art? Arguably the Museum could use this. Or, perhaps more space for works on paper–  prints, drawings and photographs? There is an argument for this, and the argument is strong.

The CAM’s collection of prints, drawings and photos is about 30,000 strong. This puts the CAM on par or above other elite institutions in the Midwest, such as Cleveland with about 23,000 pieces, Indianapolis with about 26,000 pieces or Detroit with 35,000. Most of these institutions have dedicated print gallery space for rotating exhibits of prints, drawings or photos.

Quantity does not tell the whole story. The CAM’s collection is not only vast but excellent. Much of its breadth is owed to collectors’ bequests, such as Herbert Greer French, whose 2,400 prints spanned five centuries and included 130 Albrecht Durer prints. The Howard and Caroline Porter collection of more than 800 Twentieth Century Japanese prints is one of the strongest outside of Japan. According to Kristin Spangenberg, now in her 4th decade as print curator, the collection is strong in European and American prints and holds many excellent Rembrandt prints and rare prints, such as Hercules Seghers etchings, as well as a unique Tenth century Chinese print. There are over 40 Toulouse-Lautrecs, many of which are now on display. Most recently, the Museum acquired a beautiful and delicate Winslow Homer etching, “Mending of Tears” from 1888. Literally, many thousands of fine examples of the print medium, from the Tenth Century to Contemporary, are in the collection, most rarely seen by the public.

In the last couple of years, the Collection has mounted not only the Toulouse-Lautrec show, but the very successful Picasso print show, the Circus Poster show and other smaller print shows. Presently a Terry Winters portfolio is on view in what is normally the Musical Instruments gallery, and soon, a newly acquired Josef Albers portfolio will be displayed. There is plenty of material to fill a dedicated gallery with 3 or more shows a year—interesting, beautiful material that viewers can learn from and appreciate.

The Collection is presently using a prestigious grant from the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Sciences) to inventory and update the online catalogue and photograph the collection, an undertaking that will bring the collection’s info-infrastructure into the modern era and will take about two years to complete.

Print has a long and influential place in Cincinnati. The Print and Drawing Society played a major role in the acquisition of a good portion of the collection for decades. The city has long been a center for commercial printing, with firms such as Strohbridge producing beautiful circus and vaudeville posters and Hennegan (disclaimer: I worked for Hennegan for 35 years), long a supplier to the motion picture industry and several other prestigious printing firms, many gone now. In the digital age, print is in decline.

But, decline is not the word with which one would describe the fine art print editions world. Carl Solway, who has lead his internationally known gallery into its 51st year, says that “with the cost of unique works of contemporary art skyrocketing, the print medium allows collectors of more modest means to buy beautiful works of art”. He also credits the resurgence of print editions to the expanded use of varying new techniques. “Ken Tyler (Tyler Graphics and G.E.L.) pushed the medium with the use of new processes and technology.”

Until the late 1950s, fine art printing was pretty well confined to smaller works done with a singular process, such as etching or wood cut. Along came Tatyana Grosman, founder of U.L.A.E. (United Limited Artists Editions) in 1957. She worked with pioneers such as Johns and Rauschenberg in creating prints that used photosensitive litho stones and intaglio and then, in 1973, traditional Japanese woodcuts. The Tamarind Lithography Workshop, founded in Los Angeles in 1960, made it its mission to restore prestige to “the print” and trained a generation of Master Printers, as well as producing a collection of fine prints. One of their students was Ken Tyler, who founded G.E.L.  in 1965. He worked with Albers, Johns, Rauschenberg and Frank Stella. Tyler built his own paper mill. He produced prints using hybrids of lithography and screen printing. Carl Solway believes that Tyler’s collaborations with Stella “were among the most beautiful, technically difficult prints of the century”. Scale increased dramatically. One Stella print was more than 6 feet by 20 feet and used 3 woodblocks and over 100 intaglio plates. Handmade papers and hybrid production processes became more prevalent.

As a result of these pioneers, the editioned print has had a huge resurgence in recent decades. More publishers have set up shops, producing beautiful work for a new generation of artists and art collectors: Harlan and Weaver, Two Palms, Graphic Studio and Mixografia, whose proprietary process creates detailed sculpted works on paper. In Cincinnati, Clay Street Press has produced many prints and portfolios in a variety of processes for internationally renowned and local artists. All have brought vitality and technical wizardry to the craft. Over 100 workshops are in operation the U.S. today.

Likewise, artists do not consider the making of prints a secondary pursuit. Many great artists of the last 50 years have made printmaking part of their oeuvre, creatively expanding on their body of work and pushing the medium and the workshops to create incredible works.

So, print as art can now be an even more rewarding experience, with its myriad of techniques and its historical range. The sheer beauty of a perfectly executed, super detailed etching, a color-saturated screen print, a lush aquatint, a fine grained mezzotint or the fine tones of a stone lithograph all communicate differently. Not to mention embossing, intaglio, engraving, drypoint, woodcut and other methods. Even the digitally produced Iris and other ink-jet products have their place in the contemporary realm.

Now is the time for the Museum to make a commitment to what is arguably its strongest collection, a commitment to let us see, on a continuing basis, centuries of fine print art. A dedicated print, drawing and photograph gallery should get its due space now that space is available. It is also a fairly economical way for the museum to mount new shows of interest using its own collection, without the expense of shipping and insuring paintings or sculpture.


Thanks to Kristin Spangenberg and Carl Solway for their knowledgeable input and to the various websites of Institutions and Publishers mentioned for use of their content.




  1. Aaron Betsky says:

    February 15th, 2013at 10:40 am(#)

    Thank you for your thoughtful essay. We fully agree that we need a place to show prints and drawings in a more permanent and accessible manner. I look forward to your suggestions on where we might have such a space, and how we might fund it.

    On another note, we are the Cincinnati Art Museum or the Art Museum, not the CAM. We are not a camshaft or a camera in slang. Nor are we the Museum Center.

  2. Kevin Ott says:

    February 15th, 2013at 3:19 pm(#)

    I am glad you read the piece. I may have incorrectly assumed that there will be additional gallery space when the former Art Academy space is finished, and that some smallish gallery space might be dedicated to the PPD collection. I also assumed that any new space would have already been funded as part of the whole project. I am also not in a position to suggest where that space might be, but only that the collection might deserve the space.

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    April 9th, 2013at 1:19 am(#)

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  4. Elizabeth Denton says:

    April 10th, 2013at 8:54 pm(#)

    I am Caroline Porter’s granddaughter. Thank you for recognizing the contributions she and husband Howard made to the museum’s superb print collection.